After a Long Time – Reflections on Unanswered Prayer

 “After a long time, in the third year, the Word of the Lord came to Elijah…” 12 Kings 18:1

“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked … “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea…” The sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on… 1 Kings 18:43-45

I was pondering and praying over these verses on a recent prayer walk… OK, I was venting to God over these verses on a recent prayer walk! I was especially camping on the “After a long time” and the “There is nothing there” phrases, just letting God know (as if he didn’t!) that Dave and I have seemingly been in a “drought” of unanswered prayers for AT LEAST three and half years (many more in my count!) I could list off- and I did- many situations where it seemed that God was simply silent. Where it seemed that things were not only NOT getting better, but rather getting WORSE! It seemed to me that I had gone and looked at the sky well over seven times and kept coming back with a “There’s nothing there!” (Not even a small cloud of hope!)

So what do I do with that?? What do I do when it seems like things keep going in the wrong direction, prayers go unanswered, and God seems nowhere to be found? I am learning to look at my anger, that’s what I’m learning to do! For I am realizing that when my prayers don’t seem to be answered and I react with anger and impatience, three underlying elements are usually present.

 The first element that I am recognizing is the “I am not getting my way!” element.  I am seeing that I tend to hold many “my way” opinions! I want things to look a certain way. Like designer clothes, I want designer people with ME as the designer! They should look like this, act like this, treat God like this, treat me like this… And if they don’t, I “pray” about it! Which often consists of me telling God what HE SHOULD DO to make them “my way!” What I am forgetting is that HE, not I, is the Designer! He, not I, not only knows the best way to change people, but knows best whom they should become!

The second element present is this deep underlying sense that “I need to fix the problem!”  That it’s somehow up to me, and yes, “if I don’t, who will????” So I can tend to pile up the problems and try to tackle them one by one, coming up with what appear to me good solutions (that I’ve prayed about!!), only to have one after another shot down in some fashion or form. What I am forgetting is that God has not called me to be “God!” I am not in charge of fixing people and their problems! God is! He will let me know when he needs me to assist him. He knows how to untangle knots ever so much better than I!

The third element is the desire to escape pain and discomfort. When I’m faced with unresolved problems, people struggles, etc., I can get so TIRED! It can feel like there is never any good news, never anything positive, no nudges in the right direction. It’s never “my turn” to celebrate victories. I can just feel trapped with all the weight and pressure of ongoing trials seemingly dumped on my doorstep. What I am forgetting is that God is in control and is the giver of all grace, the bestower of resources, and the source of all comfort who wants me to lean into him and draw from his living water in the thick of the drought.  

Do you see why my anger can build when my prayers don’t seem to be answered?? I have lost sight of WHO GOD IS and his rightful place in my life. I am forgetting that I am simply his bond-servant, co-worker, and beloved child, who at times, may be called upon to do hard things and “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” (Colossians 1:24) And yet, ultimately, other people and their problems, AND my problems as well, rest squarely in God’s hands, not mine! 

Prayer is a privilege because it is an opportunity to share my heart with my Father’s, lay my burdens in his lap, and leave them there for his decisions. Three and half years, seven times… God ultimately decides the “how longs,” the “who’s,“ what’s” and the “where’s.” And God DOES know how to end the droughts! It all comes back to HE is God, and I am not! Thank him for that!!